- Paperback: 203 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (November 20, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780062135643
- ISBN-13: 978-0062135643
- ASIN: 0062135643
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Married Love: And Other Stories Paperback – November 20, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2012: Novels and stories being such different beasts, it's rare to find a writer gifted at both: the quick sketches and implications of a short piece; the steady build and satisfying arc of an extended one. Four-time novelist Tessa Hadley deftly handles any length, as her outstanding new collection confirms. Despite the book's title, Married Love, these dozen taut stories are decidedly unsentimental. In "Friendly Fire," a middle-aged mother cleans toilets in a warehouse, reflecting on her hapless husband and soldier son; in "Post Production," a film director dies suddenly in his kitchen, leaving a bizarre tangle of relationships behind. Hadley has a special talent for opening lines: "After the sex, he fell asleep," reads one. Only a writer at the top of her game could make you care what happens next. You will. --Mia Lipman
From Publishers Weekly
Every story in this very English collection by New Yorker contributor Hadley (Accidents in the Home) juxtaposes the promise, even magnificence, of a rich inner life against the disappointing banality of everyday existence. In the title story, the author allows a willful girl to fling herself headlong into an ill-advised marriage, then makes us watch as all her pluck, all her potential, slowly dries up. In other stories, the author gives her characters refuge—a fecund greenhouse, the city of Venice, a house remembered from childhood—but ensures that they are not happy there, that each place is dark or rainy or infested with off-putting people. When Hadley sets a story ( In the Country ) in the bucolic English countryside on a perfect summer weekend among the members of a loving family, it isn't long before her protagonist imagines being buried alive, earth in her mouth and nose and ears... her flesh turning to a dry brown fertilising cake. Disillusion is Hadley's stock in trade. She is kind to the families she creates—mothers and fathers especially are respected, even revered. But when she dissects them with her sharp instruments of observation, she strikes nerves that can cause pain. Agent: Joy Harris, the Joy Harris Literary Agency. (Dec.)
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I enjoyed this collection much more than Hadley's novel The London Train, and perhaps it is because her style is so well suited to the smaller but more intense frame of the short story. It forces the reader to focus on her tightness of language and the crystalline quality of her descriptions, her believable dialogue and characters that ring true. While I can't say that I loved every one of these stories, I definitely appreciated Hadley's mastery of her craft.
Two of my favorite stories, "In the Country" and "Pretending," show how Hadley keeps you in suspense, and how deft she is at making the ending feel just right. "In the Country" builds around the gathering of the clan to celebrate Stella's 60th birthday. Two of the characters, Julie and Seth, have married into the family or are about to. The family includes them easily enough, but they are outsiders nevertheless. Seeking a bit of elbow room, each decides on a walk in the woods. Their chance encounter leads to more, setting the stage for this ending:
"That evening all the ordinary things that she [Julie] and Seth said to one another, all the times they brushed past each other or sat down together, were a code for something else enormously important that had happened, but did not appear."
"Pretending" begins with the formation of an unlikely friendship in Junior School between Roxanne, a naughty girl from the Homes, and the narrator, a good girl who is both intimated and fascinated by her new friend. Their alliance, cemented by the wild pretend games Roxanne comes up with on a moment's notice, evolves in richly complicated ways. When the narrator wins admission to a better secondary school than Roxanne qualifies for, the friendship fizzles. They would see each other only one more time, at Blue, a jeans shop where the narrator held down a Saturday job and Roxanne came in to check out the jeans. When she emerged from a changing cubicle, "she was wearing a couple pair of jeans under her dress."
"She walked without any special haste straight to the shop door. . . . she gave me one quick, straight look, boldly into my face, and flashed her smile at me, like a flare of light illuminating the whole place, melting me. And I thought: I will always be the tame one, watching while she risks everything. . . . I believed then that this meant I would be safe, at least."
Another of Hadley's great strengths is her ability to describe people and places in words that make you catch your breath. She is that good. Listen to her descriptions of the April and October couple in "Married Life" - the title story. First, Lottie (April): "She had a gift of vehemence, the occasional lightning flash of vision so strong that it revealed to others, for a moment, the world as it was from her perspective." Then Edgar (October): "He had seemed . . . [like the] ideal of an elderly creative artist: tall, very thin, with a shock of upstanding white hair, a face whose hollows seemed to have been carved out by suffering, tanned skin as soft as leather, charcoal-grey linen shirt."
End note. "Pretending" is the only story in the collection that is told in the first person. All the others are told by an omnipotent narrator. In her P.S. essay "Writing Married Love" Hadley offers a clue as to why she seems to favor this voice: "I think I feel bolder in my writing, and trust myself more than I did when I was first writing stories. I take myself into material I might have been afraid to risk before. . . . Now I trust, up to a point, that the best part of `knowing' is imagining. If you can imagine it, then you'll probably be able to write it." And a P.S. of my own. The New York Times Book Review has selected "Married Love" as one of its 100 Best Books of the Year.
I found many of the characters intriguing and I felt the theme of exposure and discovery to be well explored. The language is very distinctive to the point that the misstep, "she had a tight little figure" was quite jarring. For some reason, this anachronism nearly turned me away. This is probably because her language has a sort of classic tone that has a pleasant contrast to the more modern themes in many of the stories. I enjoyed the stories and found the collection to have a thematic unity.